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Pet Sins March 2005

Asian female characters in American cartoons

In 2001, we ran a couple of special issues examining the treatment and distribution of race in American animation, reviewing cartoons shown from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Some of these old cartoons are still being rerun today. But has newer animation shown a decrease in race-based or gender-based biases?

Over the last decade, Asian characters in American cartoons tended to be female - examples of animated features or cartoons are discussed in our April 2001 article Blacks, Asians and Arabs in American animation. Cartoons made after 2001 don't exactly seem to be bucking the trend. One example of a cartoon with an Asian female character but no Asian male characters is WB's 2002 cartoon series Codename: The Kids Next Door. There are no recent cartoons that have Asian male characters but no Asian female characters.

Despite the age of the target audience, Asian female cartoon characters also tend to have traits that indicate their availability to males. For example, Kuki Sanban from The Kids Next Door is labeled as "The Flirt" in advertisements for the cartoon. Another example from a new cartoon is Japanese hacker girl Kimiko from WB's Xiaolin Showdown, which aired in 2003. Her outfit is rather revealing.

And the weird thing is Kimiko has blue eyes, as does her teacher at the temple where she and her friends are studying. They are clearly both meant to be East Asian characters. So why the blue eyes?

On a positive note, there is one cartoon that has Asian characters, but bucks the trend of using sexified Asian females. It is "Jackie Chan Adventures" (2000) from Sony Pictures. For starters, the main character is a yellow male, which makes it unusual. In addition, the main female character is Jackie's niece, the tomboy Jade who not only appears androgynous, but even impersonates a male leprechaun in one episode.

"The Life and Times of Juniper Lee" (2005) also breaks with stereotypes in giving the titular Asian female character a black male love interest.